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Speeding Ticket Robots To Cite Autonomous Cars?

Could you write a program to issue speeding tickets automatically? And if you did, what factors would be used to mitigate autonomous law enforcement, if any? Academics from West Point and Samford University in Alabama assigned it as a problem to student programmers, asking them to go beyond the parameters for an automatic ticketing device at intersections (which already exists).

These programmers were provided with real-world driving data extracted from the on-board computer of a commuter's automobile (a late model Toyota Prius) and a second dataset providing manually-constructed, but realistically-derived, speed limit information. Given this data, the first group was asked to implement “the letter of the law” and issue traffic citations accordingly (the datasets are available online). The second group was asked given an additional, carefully-crafted, written specification from which to base their software implementation. Both a computer scientist and an attorney reviewed this specification for accuracy. The specification was also verbally briefed to the third group to further clarify the requirements. The programmers had two weeks to complete the assignment.

The widely-varying interpretations by reasonable programmers demonstrate the human filter (or "bias") that goes into the drafting of the enforcement code. Once drafted, the code is unbiased in its execution, but bias is encoded into the system. This bias can vary widely unless the appropriate legislative or law enforcement body takes extra precautions, such as drafting a software specification and performing rigorous testing.

An automated system, however, could maintain a continuous flow of samples based on driving behavior and thus issue tickets accordingly. This level of resolution is not possible in manual law enforcement. In our experiment, the programmers were faced with the choice of how to treat many continuous samples all showing speeding behavior. Should each instance of speeding (e.g. a single sample) be treated as a separate offense, or should all consecutive speeding samples be treated as a single offense? Should the duration of time exceeding the speed limit be considered in the severity of the offense?

In the fine tradition of academia, their paper resulted in more questions than answers, of course, particularly in terms of the societal cost of automated law enforcement when involving artificially-intelligent robotic systems unmediated by human judgment.

However, modern-day academics must take a back seat to science fiction writers on this issue. In his excellent 1941 novella Old Fireball, Golden Age sf great Nat Schachner describes a dashboard device that could automatically issue you a ticket right in your car:

Kerry looked obediently at the little oblong screen above the dashboard. On it, flashing neatly, was imprinted a summons for violation of the traffic laws. The photoelectric eyes at each crossing had clocked the gyro's speed. As it passed the legal limit, the automatic mechanism recorded the offender's license, sent out the impulses that printed the summons in the offender's cab.
(Read more about the automatic speeding fine)

In John Jacob Astor's 1894 story A Journey in Other Worlds, there is a reference to instantaneous Kodaks which could be placed on a road for speed control.

The policemen on duty also have instantaneous kodaks mounted on tripods, which show the position of any carriage at half-and quarter-second intervals, by which it is easy to ascertain the exact speed, should the officers be unable to judge it by the eye; so there is no danger of a vehicle's speed exceeding that allowed in the section in which it happens to be; neither can a slow one remain on the fast lines.
(Read more about the instantaneous Kodaks)

Via An Experiment in the Law as Algorithm (pdf) and Ars Technica.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/10/2013)

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